Queen's University

Amira Halabi

Amira Halabi might be the only Arab teaching Modern Hebrew at a North American university.

Students enrolled in Modern Hebrew courses this year may be slightly surprised the first day of class.

Amira Halabi, an Arab from Israel, will teach the introduction and intermediate language courses while Na’ama Haklai is on leave.

Howard Adelman, director of the Jewish studies program, says Ms Halbi might be the only Arab teaching Modern Hebrew at a North American university.

“We look forward to her bringing a multicultural dimension to the Hebrew program,” Dr. Adelman says.

Ms Halabi searched for teaching opportunities in Canada after her husband, Yakub Halabi, joined Queen’s political studies department two years ago.

“This position is an incredible opportunity for me to start a career here,” says Ms Halabi, who also speaks Arabic and English.

For 13 years Ms Halabi taught Modern Hebrew as a second language to Arabs in Israel as well as Arabic. She first taught at an elementary school in Horfaish near the holy city of Tzfat in northern Israel where she was born. After getting married, Ms Halabi moved to Isfiya and worked in Daliat-Elkarmel near Haifa in Israel and instructed students in Grades seven to nine. She also led informal Modern Hebrew classes for older women, which she enjoyed immensely.

Ms Halibi doesn’t think the transition to teaching Modern Hebrew to English-speaking university students will be difficult.

“The material and curriculum are the same. I will focus on reading, writing, speaking and listening,” she says.

An Arab teaching Modern Hebrew may be rare in North America, but in Israel it’s quite common. Additionally, many Arabic-speaking people teach their language to Hebrew-speaking students and Hebrew teachers instruct in Arabic schools.

“In the classroom everything is fine and good and normal. There are no problems,” says Ms Halabi, who holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in education from Haifa University.

Learning each other’s languages brings Israeli Jews and Arabs closer together, Ms Halabi believes.

“When people from different cultures learn each other’s languages, it means they are open to understanding each other,” she says.

Ms Halabi is happy to return to Kingston, having lived in the city for seven months after her husband began working at Queen’s. The Halabis are settling in and their four-year-old son is quickly learning English.

“Both of us are happy and relaxed,” she says with a smile.

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Last updated at 4:55 pm EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
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